The 1905 season was one of incredible success for the silver and gold. Idaho allowed only two points to be scored against the team during the entire season. Ironically, those two points were scored by Lewiston High School.

Idaho opened the season with a practice game against Lewiston High School and, as expected, dominated the game. The silver and gold put up a huge score of 42 while only allowing Lewiston two points. The two points allowed were scored via a safety as a result of an Idaho fumble after the game was well in hand. The anticipated schedule of 1905 an example of how much has changed since the university first began playing football. Idaho’s assistant manager scheduled every three days between October 7th and October 20. Luckily for Idaho the vast majority of those games were scheduled to be played at Moscow. In addition, as the Argonaut points out, Idaho was missing two key players for the 1905 season. One due to parental objection and one due to a mining injury.

October 7th marked the true beginning of the season and the first test against a college opponent. It didn’t matter for Idaho. The silver and gold put up the largest score in the history of the program to that point by defeating Montana Agricultural College (later Montana State University) by the score of 50-0. The official Idaho records do not have a date for this game but the Argonaut indicates it was scheduled for October 7.

As I mentioned Idaho had tentatively scheduled many more games than actually ended up being played. In fact, the next game to be played didn’t happen until Idaho hosted Washington on October 30. And in the October 30 issue of the Argonaut the top story was Idaho’s historic 8-0 victory over Washington. Idaho’s 8 points were scored via two field goals. After the game a reception was held in Ridenbaugh hall, then a women’s dormitory, for both teams.

After the Washington game all eyes focused on the Washington State game. Idaho was set to host the game and set about constructing extra bleachers to accommodate the extra fans expected to witness Idaho’s best team in years. The Idaho faithful were not disappointed as Idaho stayed undefeated by beating Washington State 5-0. After victories over Montana State, Washington, and Washington State, Idaho proved that it alone was the best team in the northwest states of Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Only Whitman remained between Idaho and an undefeated season. The Argonaut calculated that 3,500 fans witnessed the game between Idaho and Washington State. As a result of the victory Idaho tied the all-time series between the two schools at 4-4 and ran it’s win streak over Washington State to 3 games in a row.

The final game of the season for Idaho was against the Missionaries of Whitman College. The Idaho record book incorrectly dates this game as happening on November 11 but in fact it took place on November 18. As in the previous contests of the 1905 season, Idaho had little trouble with Whitman and defeated the Missionaries 9-0 to cap off an undefeated season.

The victory over Whitman left Idaho undefeated and un-scored-upon by any college team in the entire season. It also left Idaho as the only undefeated team in the northwest and undisputed champion of the northwest. Even the Chronicle recognized Idaho as champion of the northwest, although the Chronicle did take the opportunity to criticize Idaho’s light schedule.

The 1905 Idaho Football Team from the Gem of the Mountains Yearbook
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The first game of the 1906 season occurred on October 13. This fact is omitted from the official Idaho record books but can be verified through the Idaho Argonaut. The first game of the season was against the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club. The team was essentially an “all-star” team of amateur athletes from the northwest. In addition, the game was to be one of only three home games for Idaho. The other two games would be against Coeur d’Alene High School and the University of Oregon.

The 1906 Idaho football team (top left)

The 1906 Idaho football team (top left)

The game against the Spokane team was a hard fought victory for Idaho. In fact, Idaho trailed for most of the game and needed an 80 yard touchdown run to achieve the come from behind 10-5 victory. The game was played in front of a crowd of 350.

The second game of the season was against Coeur d’Alene High School on October 20th. This date is also omitted from the Idaho record books but can be verified by the Idaho Argonaut. Idaho struggled with the high school team but ultimately pulled away as the game wore on and won by a score of 23-0.

The next game was on October 26 against the University of Oregon. The game was to be the biggest game in Moscow of the entire season. By the account from the Argonaut the game was a very hard fought battle with neither team scoring a touchdown. Oregon came on top by a score of 12-0 thanks to three successful field goals. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing regarding Idaho’s facilities problems throughout the years, the bleachers collapsed during the pregame dropping about 100 people to the ground. In addition a fight broke out between a Pullman student and an Idaho student with the Idaho student getting arrested.

The annual Battle of the Palouse would follow the Oregon game. This year, the game would take place in Pullman. Idaho came into the game with a record of 2-1 after the Oregon loss. To this point in time Idaho led the series with WSC by a margin of 5-4Two thousand fans turned out for the big game and saw WSC even up the series by a score of 10-0. The Spokesman estimated that 800 of those spectators came from Moscow for the game. After a very competitive and hard-fought game WSC came out ahead by the score of 10-0 and improved their record to 4-0 making a claim to be the best team in the northwest.

Idaho’s season would continue the following week against Whitman college. Again, the Idaho record book omits the date of the contest, which was November 17 at Walla Walla. Idaho would fall for the third game in a row. This time by the score of 6-5. The Argonaut identified Idaho as having the stronger team but with each team scoring a touchdown and Whitman converting the extra point, Idaho went down in defeat.

The final game of the season would take place in Seattle against the mighty University of Washington. The Argonaut was very complimentary of the Vandal effort suggesting Washington needed its best performance of the year in order to secure the victory. The Chronicle reported that 4,000 spectators witnessed the exciting 16-9 Vandal defeat.

Here is a summary of the 1906 season in the Pacific Northwest by Spalding. Idaho finished the season with a record of 2-4 but the prospects for a successful 1907 looked very good.

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Idaho began the season by hosting the Spokane Athletic Club. The Idaho squad handled the visitors easily, winning by the score of 22-0.  Idaho outgained the visiting team by a whopping 325 yards to 70.

The following week Idaho would travel to Portland to play Oregon. The governors of Idaho and Oregon would attend the game. The Argonaut reports that a huge crowd attended the game and that Idaho played a much better game than the score of 21-5 (Idaho scored a touchdown and missed the kick) indicated. Further, it was reported that the field was covered in six inches of…sawdust in order to make fast football.

On November 8th Idaho would host Washington State in the 10th annual Battle of the Palouse. Idaho wasn’t expecting to win, but was prepared to give WSC a fight nonetheless. Back in the early days the rivalry was fairly evenly matched. WSC had won 5 and Idaho 4. Washington State requested 1,000 tickets for the game and planned on bringing at least that many fans. In total, 3,000 people attended the game and witnessed an Idaho upset, evening the rivalry at 5 games apiece. The 5-4 victory was an upset as every football expert picked WSC to handily defeat Idaho. Idaho scored a touchdown and held WSC to a drop kick goal.


The Gem of the Mountains yearbook with a humorous commentary on the defeat of Washington State

After Idaho defeated Whitman the following week the Argonaut ran a front page headline declaring Idaho the champions of the Inland Empire. Idaho’s quickly improving team beat Whitman easily 11-0.

The final game of the season would be a true test for Idaho. The team would travel to Seattle to take on the mighty Huskies of Washington. The game would occur on Thanksgiving Day. The thrilling game would end in a 0-0 tie and would be one of the exceptionally rare times Idaho’s football squad would not be on the losing side in a battle against Washington.  Idaho once had the ball and was threatening to score, but turned the ball over on downs near the Washington 5 yard line.

Thus far in Idaho’s history the 1907 was considered the most successful season ever. The end of the season left several teams, including Idaho, vying for championship bragging rights. Oregon State defeated Oregon and Whitman. Idaho, while losing to Oregon, also defeated Whitman, defeated Washington State, and tied Washington. Meanwhile Washington State defeated Washington and Whitman. Unfortunately no title game would take place, so we will never know whether Idaho would have defeated Oregon State.


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The team opened the season against the YMCA from Spokane. The Argonaut described the YMCA men as a individual stars who had not played together as a team prior to this season. The game was the inaugural performance on the “new” athletic field. The field, which predates even McLean Field was situated in a north-south orientation at approximately the location of the present day Education Building. As expected, the yet-to-be-named Vandals hardly struggled with the YMCA, winning by a score of 31-0.

The next game would be against the Bremerton Navy. This team was composed of “full grown men who are given three hours leave from duty each day that they may practice“.  The Bremerton team would face off against Idaho on Saturday, stay in Moscow for the week, and then play Washington State the following Friday. Idaho again handled their opponent with ease, defeating the Marines 32-0. The Bremerton team described Idaho as the fastest team in the northwest.

Idaho’s historic difficulty with the Oregon Ducks continued in 1908. The Arg described the game as “spectacular” but Idaho fell just short of Oregon and lost by the score of 27-21.

Because of Idaho’s strong performance in the first three games of the season it was expected that Idaho would prevail easily over Whitman next. But, the Missionaries surprised everyone and defeated Idaho 11-0. Idaho twice had the ball down to the Whitman 1 yard line but twice Idaho was denied. Falling to a record of 2-2 on the season, Idaho prepared next for Washington State. Then, as now, the entire season would be considered a success if Idaho could defeat the State College.

A huge crowd of 3,000 spectators witnessed the epic clash that would take place in Pullman. Neither team was able to cross the goal and the game finished a 4-4 tie. A pair of 4 point field goals in the first half was all the scoring that was allowed between the bitter rivals.



For the final game of the season Idaho would travel to Salt Lake to take on Utah. On a snowy field Idaho and Utah played to a 0-0 tie. The game was called an hour in because of weather. Still, 1500 brave souls witnessed the battle. Idaho was expecting to defeat Idaho easily but the silver and gold outplayed Utah, who was lucky to escape without a loss.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the FCS

Recently I was debating with someone why I thought the move to FCS was a terrible decision on the part of the institution. Among the typical reasons this person supported the move was that we will never be able to compete with the USC’s of the world. In their view the institution would never provide adequate resources to compete at that level. Wouldn’t our resource capability be better positioned for success against the Big Sky?

That got me thinking. It depends, of course, how the institution defines success. I would argue that we don’t need to compete with USC and Alabama. We should judge our success relative to other Group of Five (G5) schools. I would argue that a measurable measure of success would be bowl appearances. I would argue that this program would be successful if every four-year player to pass through the program appeared in at least one bowl game. Would our level of institutional support not allow the program to achieve such a modest goal?

Well, for the years 2012 through 2015 the average budget for G5 teams making only one bowl game was over 30 million dollars. Meanwhile, Idaho’s budget for the last year was roughly 20 million. But, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Some athletic departments like Connecticut and UNLV with huge budgets have only one bowl appearance to show for it. During the same time period Bowling Green went to four bowls, Lafayette went to three, Louisiana Tech went to two, and Monroe went to one. All four of these institutions have budgets similarly sized to that of the University of Idaho and are capable of producing at least one bowl team within the last four years. Is Idaho unable to manage its finances at least as well as Monroe and Bowling Green?

Since the decision has already been made it begs the question “how will we define success in the FCS?” The average budget of a playoff team last year was nearly identical to Idaho’s athletics budget. Should fans now expect yearly playoff appearances from this program? Would less be considered a failure? Or will the Idaho athletics budget, without the benefit of big money games at the FBS level, shrink to a less competitive level for even a lower division? One side of this debate will be proven right. Either Idaho will return to football prominence in the Big Sky or drift further into irrelevance in the Big Sky and State of Idaho.

Regardless of future results fans of the Idaho program should not excuse the mishandling of the Vandals entire tenure in FBS. Never forget that when Idaho made the jump to FBS in 1996 the Vandals beat Boise State 3 years in a row, won a conference title and went to a bowl game. The university is now suffering the consequences of that lack of inaction. Doing things the “Idaho Way” have crippled this program and doomed it to failure. Exploiting NCAA attendance rules rather than using early on-field success to improve facilities is but one in a long history of missteps by the university.

A final thought on the decision to accept the Big Sky’s standing invitation: Idaho is not the University of Chicago. In the first place the private University of Chicago is one of the most elite research institutions in the world whose legitimacy will never be defined by athletics. Idaho is a state, land-grant university. In the second place Chicago may have withdrawn from the Big Ten athletic conference but as a founding member of both the Big Ten and its academic counterpart the Committee on Institution Cooperation the University of Chicago remains intimately associated with the Big Ten. Any further comparison between Idaho and the University of Chicago is not only unfounded but embarrassing.

Far more applicable to this situation is the voluntary decision by the University of Montana to withdraw from the Pacific Coast Conference, of which Idaho was a member. The governor of Montana said at the time that their university would keep athletics “properly subordinated to the academic function”. At the time Montana wanted to join an inferior league composed of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Of course, all of those schools continued on an upward trajectory while Montana chose to look downward.

History, it appears, it repeating itself again.

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RIP Vandal Football

1968. The death of an historic Vandal tradition. The annual football game in Boise, Southern Homecoming, died when Idaho welcomed Boise State College into the Big Sky Conference with open arms. Idaho, of course, would continue to play in Boise. But in the future it would be different. It would be against Boise State. It would no longer be an “Idaho” game. It would be a “Boise State” game. The death of this tradition marked the beginning of Idaho’s slow, painful, decline from prominence in the state of Idaho.
For many years Southern Homecoming featured Idaho hosting the Utah Utes. It’s not widely known today, but historically, southern Idaho fans viewed the nearly annual game against the Utes as the biggest game of the year. North Idaho fans, of course, rallied around the Battle of the Palouse. Southern homecoming offered southern Idaho alumni and fans the chance to connect with the university. The Sound of Idaho led the homecoming parade through downtown Boise. The university hosted parties and galas. The governors of Idaho and Utah attended the game. The game was the biggest fundraiser of the year. And that’s not to mention the publicity and goodwill generated by distributing tickets to elected officials and local football coaches.

Since the elevation of Boise Junior College to Boise State, though, the Vandals have voluntarily yielded Boise to the Broncos, content to play in Boise only as the visiting team. Now, that too, has come to an end. But, it didn’t have to be that way.
Being in a separate athletic conference from our in-state rival offered Idaho an unprecedented opportunity to reclaim some of its former glory. Cooperating with Boise State University to restore a long-dead Vandal tradition offered the opportunity to tone down some of the hateful rhetoric between fans (and sometimes even university presidents). Restoring the game would have provided an opportunity for some of the most dedicated supporters their only opportunity to see Vandal football. Restoring the game would have provided an opportunity reclaim a portion of the Treasure Valley for the University of Idaho.

Idaho is fortunate enough to have four historic football rivals in Washington State, Montana, Boise State, and Utah. But, as a result of bad luck and institutional stubbornness it no longer plays any of them regularly. Athletics in general and football in particular could have been fixed. Idaho needed only to regain the will to do it. The institution needed only to learn from Idaho’s rich history. Idaho’s presence in the Treasure Valley could have been restored. Idaho’s relevance in southern Idaho could have been restored. Vandal Football could have been saved.



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Idaho began the 1909 season by defeating Puget Sound. The game was played in Moscow and Idaho expended little effort in defeating the team from Washington. The second string played for most of the second half. Puget Sound scored in the last minute to make the final score 31-6.

The next week Idaho would face Whitman in what was expected to be another Idaho victory. However, Whitman surprised everyone and soundly defeated Idaho 30-6. By all accounts Idaho was outplayed in every aspect of the game and scored only on by returning a blocked kick for a touchdown.

The first major game of the season would occur in week three against Washington. The team from Seattle would face Idaho at Recreation Park in Spokane. The facility, which hosted the Spokane Indians baseball club seated approximately 7,000 spectators. About 3,000 showed up to see Idaho embarrassed by Washington. The real interesting thing about the game, though were the side stories. The game was essentially a test of the city of Spokane and its ability to hold major sporting events. There were problems, though, including several hundred spectators sneaking into the event without paying. Another interesting aspect of the game was its foreshadowing of future problems in college football. Idaho made money from the game, but Washington, due to travel, barely broke even. Both aspects are detailed in the article in the Spokesman Review.

The following week Idaho hosted Washington State in Moscow. The recent rain turned the field to mud and Idaho was again defeated by WSC by the score of 18-0. As always, controversy surrounded the game with Idaho protesting that WSC was given an extra down resulting in their first touchdown.


Against Oregon, the Idaho squad finally put together a respectable performance. The result was the same though – a loss. The final score from Portland was 22-6. It was the first time all season, though, that the Idaho offense looked to be working as a team.

Idaho finished the season by travelling to Boise for a Thanksgiving Day game against the Boise All Stars and a game two days later against the College of Idaho. The silver and gold were victorious in both efforts against the competition to finish the season 3-4.

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Practice for the 1910 season began September 22 with coach Griffith introducing the “bucking strap“. The first game was scheduled nearly a month later and would be the battle of the Palouse.

The new practice methods worked and Idaho evened the series with Washington State at 6-6-1. In 1910 Idaho won by the score of 9-5. A big crowd of 3000 spectators were in Pullman to see Idaho defeat the Pullmanites.

In 1910 Idaho wore the traditional red jerseys as they invaded Pullman and defeated the gray-clad State College team. The Spokesman estimated the crowd at 2500 and claimed to be the biggest crowd for a sporting event in local history.


The game atmosphere and victory were roundly celebrated in Moscow. The Idaho students whom made the trip to Pullman foiled the Washington State serpentine by coming on the field in the middle of the Washington State “W”.  In fact, Idaho sent 600-700 fans from Moscow to Pullman for the game. Coach Griffith was becoming somewhat of a local legend by defeating Washington State 4 out of 5 times.

Idaho’s second “real” game of the season would be against Oregon. Idaho had already played two practices games – against Gonzaga and Lewis Clark State. Idaho hoped that this would be the season to finally break through against Oregon. Unfortunately it was not to be and Oregon soundly defeated Idaho 29-0.  A big crowd of 2000 saw the game including a few students from Pullman (whom rooted for Oregon).

Idaho traveled to Seattle next to face the mighty Washington squad and was again defeated 29-0. Idaho failed to achieve even a single first down against Washington. After the loss to Washington, Idaho would finish the season with a 5-0 victory over Whitman.

At this time Idaho competed in what was known as the Northwest Conference. The conference officials met in Portland in February of 1910. Typical agenda items included division of football gates receipts, scheduling, and eligibility of athletes. Expected in the 2011 meeting was the admittance of Whitworth to the league.

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1911 – Two Presidents Visit the University

The year 1911 was a special one in the history of the University of Idaho. One of the most historic ever in the long and glorious history of the university. In 1911 two U.S. presidents visited the Moscow campus. First president Teddy Roosevelt in April and then, three months later, President Taft. Huge crowds greeted Taft on his tour and Moscow was no exception. Although he pronounced Moscow incorrectly, the people still cheered. There’s a great interview with a local man (and former Vandal football player) named Abe MacGregor about his attendance at the Theodore Roosevelt appearance available from the University of Idaho library.

On the football field, Idaho entered the 1911 season with an all time winning record against Washington State College. The crimson and gray would be victorious in 1911 to tie the series at 6-6-2.  The Spokane papers took a decidedly pro-cougar tone in their game recaps. However, the great rivalry was described in romantic terms and the game was apparently a great one. WSC won by the score of 17-0 but Idaho fought hard, as they always do, against the cougars. The Chronicle mentions that Idaho was the lighter team and was pretty well handled by WSC. The Spokesman featured a tabulation of all previous scores in the series showing just how competitive this rivalry had become. The Spokesman also put the crowd at 4,000 spectators with special trains, packed to the steps, running to Moscow. Idaho’s biggest crowds have historically been against the hated cougars and it is a shame that the game now rarely occurs at all and never occurs in Moscow.

There is an omission in the record books regarding Idaho’s game with Gonzaga the week before the WSC affair. On October 14 Idaho hosted Gonzaga in Moscow. Once again the paper labeled the team from Moscow the “Huskies”. Idaho Huskies doesn’t have the same ring to it as Mighty Vandals. Surprisingly the 22-0 victory was seen as a disappointment with Idaho expected to beat the Gonzagans by 30 to 35 points.

Members of the 1911 Idaho Vandals from the 1913 Gem of the Mountains

Members of the 1911 Idaho Vandals from the 1913 Gem of the Mountains

The record books also omit the location and date of Idaho’s meeting with Lewiston Normal. That game occurred on October 7 and was also played at Moscow. The Mighty Vandals made quick work of the normal school and won by the score of 40-5.

On the 28th of October Idaho met Washington in Spokane. An example of another tradition lost or given up by Idaho is the hosting of events in the region’s largest population center. Spokane, as usual, was excited about hosting such a big event. Washington was favored by 10-20 points and the game played out exactly as expected with Washington enjoying a 17-0 victory. The Spokesman ran a huge comic poking fun at the ease with which Washington defeated Idaho.

Following the Washington game, Idaho returned home to host Whitman. The Vandals got back to their winning ways at home, defeating Whitman 5-0. The only touchdown of the game came in the first quarter. Idaho outplayed Whitman for most of the game with the visitors rarely threatening to score.

Idaho then traveled to Salt Lake City to face another old rival on Thanksgiving day- Utah. Three weeks had elapsed between Idaho football games due to Oregon canceling a scheduled meeting due to the death of one of their players. The snowy field and fast Utah team proved too much for Idaho with the Vandals falling by the score of 19-0. The Spokesman stated that “the Mormons got the advantage of almost every break”.

In Idaho’s last game of the season the Vandals defeated the Boise All-Stars by the score of either 21-0 or 31-0.

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Idaho against Washington State College

Idaho against Washington State College

In 1912 Idaho played only four football games. The season opened in Pullman against Washington State.  The game was dominated by Idaho and the Vandals won the game 13-0. Washington State tried multiple field goals but missed two and had one blocked by Idaho. Idaho was the bigger team, the stronger team, and the more prepared team. A huge crowd of fans was present at the game. Two special trains were run from Moscow to Pullman to bring fans in addition to those who drove by car.

A summary of the 1912 season in the Pacific Northwest from Spalding

A summary of the 1912 season in the Pacific Northwest from Spalding

Although the Vandals looked great against Washington State, Idaho was severely outclassed against the mighty huskies. Idaho was overwhelmed in every department as the Washington team crushed Idaho 24-0. Very few of Washington’s first string played the final quarter against Idaho but the Vandals were still unable to score. Legendary Washington coach Gil Dobie remarked that Washington expected Idaho to put up a better fight. The game was 22-0 in favor of Washington at the half and the only scoring in the second half was that of a safety tallied by the Washington squad.

When Idaho hosted Oregon in the third game of the season it was the red against the blue. Those teams would look severely out of place today. The red clad Vandal squad appeared to have won the game but had a touchdown called back on a technicality. Meanwhile the blue-clad Oregon boys won the game on a powerful field goal. The crowd must have been pretty light as the Spokesman made several mentions of the poor attendance and remarked that the game should be played in Spokane the next time Oregon visited Idaho.

Idaho played only one game at home in 1912 - Oregon

Idaho played only one game at home in 1912 – Oregon

In the season finale Idaho traveled to Walla Walla to face Whitman. The smaller Idaho team outcoached and outplayed Whitman winning by the score of 13-6.  Idaho and Whitman had previously played 12 times with each school winning six. The 1912 victory gave Idaho a 7-6 series lead and ended the season on a high note.

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